Amidst the shenanigans, what to know ahead of Tuesday's election?
The countdown to this year’s election is days away and putting aside all of the pre-election shenanigans and not-so-anonymous political websites, the decision to place three Marco Island City Council members is still in the hands of voters.
The top-three vote-getters out of the five candidates will win seats on the City Council and this year’s candidates feature a wide variety of civic and community involvement for voters to migrate toward.
The five candidates include:
- Erik Brechnitz: A financial manager for Raymond James by day, Brechnitz currently serves as the current chairperson of the Marco Island Planning Board. Prior to making Marco Island his full-time home, Brechnitz served nearly 15 years as either the mayor or on the Decatur (Illinois) City Council. Among his campaign promises, Brechnitz has vowed to reduce taxes and limit government in addition to fixing roads, improve water quality and bring civility to the City Council.
- Jim Richards: For what he lacks in political experience, Richards brings leadership as a businessman and senior executive in the healthcare financial sector. Richards and his family are widely known for their philanthropic involvement, which includes organizations such as the American Cancer Society, which recognized him and his wife, Allyson, in 2016 with the Grado Award. Hiring a qualified city manager, managing growth and completing residents’ vision of Veterans Community Park were among his top concerns.
- Dr. Jerry Swiacki: While he frequently mentions his past medical career, Swiacki has spent much of his time on Marco Island engaged in both civic and community affairs. Prior to his election bid, Swiacki served as chairman for the Our Cities, Our Ambulance committee that sought to increase and improve emergency medical services on Marco Island and as chairperson of the Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee. Swiacki has vowed to restore trust to a City Council that has been marred by an inability to hire a permanent city manager.
- Sam Young: Young currently serves as a member of the city's Waterways Advisory Committee and along with that, brings experience as a Coast Guard captain and the current director of Fisheries at the Marco Sportfishing Club. Prior to polling of Marco Island resident’s chief concerns, Young honed in on preserving water quality, hiring a city manager, managing density and making sure leadership holds Marco Island’s workforce accountable.
- Victor Rios: The lone incumbent running for office, Rios brings experience from his previous term on Council in addition to 30 years of experience in the aerospace industry. Rios’ campaign has focused on the promises he kept when he ran for office and continued pledge to represent the wishes of Marco Island residents. The promises Rios said he kept included fiscal responsibility by the Council, managing growth, keeping Veterans Community Park as a green space and keeping commercial parking from infringing on residential properties.
A poll conducted by the Florida Citizens’ Alliance found the top concerns among Marco Island residents were:
- Water quality
- Managing growth and island density
- Hiring a high-quality city manager
- Keeping Veterans Community Park green
- No parking garages
On the topics of water quality, Veterans Community Park and hiring a city manager, little distinguished the candidates’ answers to questions in open public forums and questionnaires.
All of the candidates were in agreement that additional data was needed to make sense of the cause behind issues with Marco Island’s waterways before an effective solution could be implemented.
Hiring a city manager was also among the top priorities for all of the candidates.
As for Veterans Community Park, with the exception of support for borrowing money to finance its completion, all of the candidates gravitated towards the most recent survey responses that asked for the park to retain its green spaces and forego any notion of a parking garage.
Swiacki, Richards and Young supported borrowing up to $5 million to complete the project with a few caveats.
Swiacki’s support was contingent on voter approval of a referendum while Young supported a bond so long as it builds out plans already approved. Brechnitz and Rios did not support borrowing additional money.
While opposed to a permanent building or garage, Young was the only candidate to answer yes to a question about supporting a structure in the park that was more than a covered bandshell with bathrooms and concessions.
Young’s position was that the he structure could become an asset to the community but also offered concerns about safety in the event of a strong weather event and said his preference leaned towards something easily collapsible.
With the Planning Board set to hear one application Friday for an assisted living facility on Marco Island, the topic of density is an issue that will be coming to the next council’s agenda soon.
Aside from the Planning Board’s consideration of the planned unit development application for the Watermark of Marco Island, the City Council will separately also consider changes to its land development code to allow for more development of assisted living facilities.
Four out of five candidates answered in a candidate questionnaire that they would not support the changes with Swiacki the only yes vote.
In his answer for why not, Brechnitz indicated that the development of these facilities could be done without amending the code. Rios indicated he would support developments that were justified and had been vetted and approved by the Planning Board and city staff. Young answered that while he opposed increasing density, his consideration would hinge on approved emergency evacuation plans as well as having citizens vote on important issues.
As for maintaining the overall density plan while encouraging redistribution to improve the business climate, candidates provided mixed answers.
Richards, Swiacki and Young all answered yes while Brechnitz and Rios disagreed.
Although Brechnitz and Rios’ overall answers differed with Swiacki, they all pointed out that density credits were no longer allowed to be transferred.
Young offered the most unique answer in stating that he would consider lowering density in the future. While supporting a business climate, Young said residents wanted more green space and to maintain the island feel.
Where to vote
For those that haven’t sent in an absentee ballot or partaken in early voting, Marco Island has three precincts for registered voters to participate on Tuesday.
Those precincts are located at:
- Marco Presbyterian Church, 875 W Elkcam Circle
- United Church of Marco Island, 320 N. Barfield Dr
- Marco Lutheran Church, 525 N. Collier Blvd.
To find the correct place to vote, visit the Collier County Supervisor of Elections webpage, https://www.colliervotes.com/Find-My-Precinct.